Guitar bends, or string bends as they are also called, are an expressive guitar technique used in many popular genres. I consider string bends and vibrato as the most important techniques because they allow your solos to “breathe”. I cover the basic technique and have guitar TAB examples.
Why learn guitar bends?
The answer to that question is because they sound great. Plus string bends really sets you apart from players that do not use string bending. That is similar to amateur players who never use vibrato. Both of those guitar techniques help create your “style” and make your solos far more interesting.
Guitar bends technique
Let’s keep it simple and just bullet point the standard method of the guitar bend technique.
- Start with fretting with your index finger and using your ring finger to fret the note that is to be bent.
- You can choose to play the note fretted with your index or not, but use your index, middle and ring finger to push the guitar string up to a higher pitch.
- But before you bend the note play the first note and the target note so you hear where you are bending to.
- Start out just trying to bend a 1/2 step (semitone \ 1 fret) or whole step (whole tone \ 2 frets).
- Keep your fingers “locked” and pivot your wrist to move\push the string into the string above it, e.g. pushing the B string into the G string (image above).
Practical thoughts are guitar string bends
Here are some pointers that I believe are important:
- Know the note you are bending to, usually a tone or semitone. Don’t just blindly bend the string.
- Keeping #1 in mind, make sure to bend in tune, into the pitch of your target note.
- Always use two or more fingers.
- Try adding vibrato on the starting pitch after releasing the bend. Vibrato sounds good when you add it to the end of the bend, but don’t add vibrato on the bend note when you are first learning this technique.
- Practice both slow and fast bends.
- If you are playing an acoustic guitar like myself, then start with the B string and at the 5th fret or higher. Bending the B string is the easiest string to bend.
- Also, consider muting the release of the bend, or muting the bend and playing the release (prebend-release).
In the guitar examples below I bend the F# on the B string at the 7th fret a half-step into a G note and the G note at the 8th into an A note (whole-step). Play these notes individually first (F# to G, and G to A) then repeat but bend into the target note.
Now let’s look at the examples.
Guitar bend TAB examples
I have a couple of simple examples of guitar bends. The first one can be used against an A minor or Am7 chord or for A7 in a blues or rock song. It basically is an A Dorian sound with a 1/2 step bend of the major 6th F# into the b7 G.
The TAB below is a classic country lick where you bend the 9 into the major 3rd and reach down to play the perfect fifth. I may not have gotten the actual rhythmic part exact, but play around with the combination of notes to get the overall feel.
I think the most important guitar techniques to learn are vibrato and guitar bends, both of which require skill to pull off. Take the time to perfect the string bend examples I have above and make sure to come up with your own examples.
Also, check out my 25+ Guitar Techniques article for a list of different embellishments you can use.